A Norman Belfast Castle was erected in the City Centre in the late 12th century, this was turned into a stone Castle in 1611. It was burned down in 1708 leaving behind it only place names as a reminder of it's existence.
The Chichesters, later the Donegalls, have left their mark all over Belfast (many of the city streets bear their names) but were for the most part absentee landlords until the early 19th century. In 1862 the 3rd Marquis of Donegall re-married and decided to build a grand new residence outside the City Centre on the slopes of Cave Hill.
The building, based on designs for Scottish Baronial Castles such as Balmoral, was completed in 1870 having cost far more than it's estimated £11,000. By the time the Castle was completed the Donegall's fortunes had waned considerably and for a while completion looked doubtful. The Castle was handed over to the City of Belfast in 1934.
From the end of World War II until the 1970s the Castle was a popular venue for weddings, dances and other events. In 1978 a major refurbishment programme was undertaken which finally finished ten years later.
The Castle still operates as a venue and hotel, but is now also partly a heritage centre. The gardens are open to the public and feature in numerous places the motif of a cat - the lucky cat of Belfast Castle.
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